The UK wants to rip up the existing Northern Ireland protocol and replace it with new Brexit arrangements, warning it would be a “historic misjudgment” if the EU did not consider such a change.
“What does it cost the EU to put a new protocol in place? It seems to us, very little,” the Brexit minister Lord Frost said in a speech in Portugal on Tuesday.
Spelling out the UK’s position in greater detail than before, he said it was needed if the both sides were to move away from the current hostilities and move to the next chapter.
To allow the current “alienation” to take hold would be “a serious historical error”, he said, adding the UK had got into “a low-equilibrium somewhat fractious relationship” but that “takes two to fix it”.
In a speech recalling the works of philosopher Edmund Burke he questioned why the EU would not want to rewrite the protocol to accommodate the unionist concerns in Northern Ireland.
“It doesn’t seem unreasonable to us to look at an agreement again if it is obviously not doing what it was designed to achieve.
“For the EU now to say the protocol, drawn up in extreme haste, at this time of great uncertainty can never be improved upon when it is so self evidently causing such difficult problems will be historic misjudgment,” he said.
“We always sign treaties and in good faith and intend to implement them. I hope that’s a given.
But he added: “We knew that some aspects of the protocol as it stood when they were agreed in October 2019, we knew that these were problematic. We didn’t particularly support them ourselves. We agreed with them because it was the right thing to do for the country overall,” he said.
Boris Johnson gave personal assurances to Northern Ireland MP Ian Paisley that he would commit to “tearing up” the Brexit protocol that is now the centre of a major row between the UK and the EU, it has been claimed.
The Democratic Unionist party MP made the comments on BBC’s Newsnight just hours after the prime minister’s former adviser Dominic Cummings claimed it was always the intention to sign the withdrawal agreement in January 2020 but “ditch bits” they didn’t like in the protocol.
On Wednesday the EU unveiled proposals to do away with more than 80% of the checks on goods and food, something Paisley said looked like a “significant” climbdown but did not go far enough as it didn’t also offer scrapping the role of the European court of justice.
One possible compromise emerging on the ECJ is to adopt the same dispute mechanism as in the the EU-Swiss treaty.
Anton Spisak, a trade expert at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said: “Under the Swiss treaty, the independent arbitration panel resolves all disputes as a default arbiter. But when questions about EU rules are asked, the ECJ has to offer its view. The independent panel is the one making the ultimate decision, but it has to take the views of the ECJ into account,” he said.
Spisak believes this would be a “credible landing zone” and would make the protocol look more like a “standard international treaty”.
The measures being floated include curbing UK access to energy supplies, imposing tariffs, or even axing the trade agreement, according to the Financial Times.
Nine out of 10 people would vote the same way again, but leavers feel better about UK politics since Brexit
Brexit divisions in UK society appear to be as entrenched as ever, according to the latest British social attitudes survey, with little sign that the issue is losing its polarising force. Nine in 10 of leave and remain voters said they would vote the same way again, it found.
Although Britain’s departure from the EU pushed overall public trust and confidence in government to its highest level for more than a decade, the survey reveals that this surge in support for the UK political system came almost entirely from leave voters – with remainers as disillusioned as they were previously.
The survey co-author Sir John Curtice said the latest findings contained little to indicate that Brexit wounds were healing. “As a result, Britain is left divided between one half of the country who now feel better about how they are being governed and another half who, relatively at least, are as unhappy as they have ever been.”
The annual poll is Britain’s longest-running tracker of public opinions, building up a comprehensive and authoritative picture of how the country’s attitudes and expectations have evolved over the past four decades across a diverse range of moral, social and political issues.
The reversal of some of the damage to trust in government caused by Brexit deadlock “might be regarded as a development to be welcomed” if democracy was to function effectively, the survey said, though it added: “Restoring the trust and confidence of remain voters looks as though it is still very much a work in progress.”
While few respondents who voted in the 2016 referendum appeared to have changed their view in the intervening five years, there was evidence of a shift among those who had not participated. More than twice as many (43%) in this group said they would now vote remain rather than back leave (18%).
Trust in government had been in decline for decades, the survey said. In 1987, 47% of respondents said they trusted government to put the needs of the nation above party interests “most of the time”. This slid to a 15% low in 2019 amid parliamentary wrangling over the UK’s exit from Europe, before recovering to 23% in 2020.
This recovery, however, was largely on the back of leave voters, 31% of whom expressed trust in government, up from 12% in 2019. Remain voters largely distrusted government in 2019 (14%) and this view had changed little (17%) a year later.
Shipping companies will be offered tax breaks if they fly the Union Jack, under Budget plans to lure the world’s biggest fleets to the UK.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is to use the freedoms provided by Brexit to open up the UK’s more generous tax regime to global shipping companies.
Shipping firms flying the Red Ensign - a red flag with the Union Jack in the upper left hoist - will stand a better chance from April next year of being accepted when applying for the UK’s tonnage tax regime.
Companies had to abide by European rules when the UK was part of the EU, which meant those flying the Red Ensign could not be treated any differently to those registered in the EU and flying other flags.
A fresh Brexit row has been blown open with Brussels after David Frost accused the EU of being close to breaching the trade deal struck last Christmas.
He said the UK was “getting quite concerned” about Brussels delaying ratification of the UK’s participation in the €80bn (£67bn) Horizon Europe research programme, costing British scientists their place in pan-European research programmes.
Lord Frost said the UK had “not made a great deal of this” but patience was running out.
“It’s not a very happy place,” he said. “We are getting quite concerned about this actually. There is an obligation in article 710 of the trade and cooperation agreement to finalise our participation. It uses the word ‘shall’. It is an obligation. It would obviously be a breach of the treaty if the EU doesn’t deliver on this obligation.”
The UK committed to gross funding of £2bn a year to the programme last December but this is not now being paid in as British scientists cannot be formal participants in the programme despite historically leading on many projects.
Earlier on Monday the House of Commons European scrutiny committee suggested the delay in ratifying this part of the trade deal was punishment for the row over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Frost said he had asked his EU counterpart, Maroš Šefčovič, many times why there was a delay when the membership of other countries including Norway and Iceland had already been ratified. While he could “guess” the reason, he had not got an answer, he told MPs.
The science sector fought hard to retain membership of the Horizon Europe programme last year, arguing it was not just the funding but the collaboration with peers across Europe that was important.
Being part of the seven-year programme would also help the UK maintain a thriving science ecosystem supporting jobs in universities and laboratories as well as acting as a magnet for overseas talent.
One Ulster University scientist told the Guardian he was on tenterhooks over a bid for £7m in funding for a project on the impact of Covid on the mental health of children and adolescents.
It came as Germany’s ambassador to London, Andreas Michaelis, warned that Berlin would lose trust in the UK if its negotiators rejected a role for the European court of justice in arbitrating the Northern Ireland protocol.
He said Germany had invested a great deal of political capital in persuading the European Commission to change its approach to the protocol and the outcome was “the maximum flexible interpretation of an agreement we have signed on the European side”.
He said: “If those proposals will not be the basis for negotiating a working protocol but will be rejected by pointing for instance to the European court of justice, we all know on all sides that will impact the trust in the relationship very significantly.”
He said the commission had made a huge effort to cut 50% of the paperwork and 80% of the obstacles.
Two Royal Navy vessels put in ‘high readiness’ to tackle potential port blockades
France’s ambassador in London was summoned and two Royal Navy patrol vessels were put on a state of “high readiness” to tackle potential port blockades by French fishing boats as the row over post-Brexit access to British waters escalated.
The dramatic moves followed French threats to clog British exports in red tape over a lack of fishing licences for their fishing vessels and inflammatory claims that Downing Street had made a “political choice” to damage the country’s coastal communities.
With tensions high, UK government defence sources said they were awaiting a distress call from Jersey, a British crown dependency, as the row over post-Brexit fishing rights looked in danger of bubbling over.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We regret the confrontational language that has been consistently used by the French government on this issue, which makes this situation no easier to resolve.
“We have raised our concerns strongly with both the French and the EU Commission. As a next step, the foreign secretary has instructed [Europe] minister Wendy Morton to summon the French ambassador.”
Boris Johnson vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to protect British fishers, with French and EU vessels put on notice of “rigorous” checks when in British waters and even tariffs on goods if Paris acts on its recent threats.
As France prepared to act on its plan to tie up British goods in red tape at ports in a row over fishing licences, the prime minister said he intended to ask Emmanuel Macron to see past the “turbulence” in British-French relations.
Johnson, who will see the French president on Sunday at a G20 meeting in Rome, said France remained the UK’s “best, oldest, closest allies, friends and partners”. “There may be people on either side of the Channel who want to create the impression of disharmony but I don’t think Emmanuel shares that perspective at all,” he added.
But Johnson confirmed the UK was preparing to take “the appropriate action” after recent announcements from French ministers.
“I think on the particular issues we have, we are puzzled about what’s going on,” the prime minister said. “We fear that there may be a breach in terms of the trade cooperation agreement implicit in what’s happening and some of the things that are being said, and obviously we will stand by to take the appropriate action … We will do whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests.”
Earlier on Friday, David Frost, the UK Brexit minister, hit out at the “unjustified” measures that the French government has said it will impose from next Tuesday over the row about fishing access, during his meeting in London with the European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič.
Šefčovič was told that Downing Street would consider “launching dispute settlement proceedings”, under which retaliation could be possible should arbitration fail, and subject all EU vessels to “rigorous enforcement processes and checks”. Fisheries protection is carried out by both the maritime and coastguard agency and Royal Navy river-class patrol vessels.
The warning followed the French government’s announcement earlier this week that it will from Tuesday impose heightened customs and health checks on British goods, potentially impose a ban on boats landing fish, and scrutinise UK vessels’ security, environmental standards and crew.
The measures, to be enforced at the ports of Cherbourg, Granville, Barneville-Carteret, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Le Havre and Brest, will only be lifted if the UK and Jersey provide more licences for French vessels seeking to fish in their coastal waters, French ministers have said.
France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, has written to Šefčovič notifying the commission of the government’s intentions, urging Brussels to support its plans. A commission spokesperson said the measures were being examined to see if they were compliant with the EU-UK trade deal.
A UK government spokesperson said Lord Frost in his discussions with Šefčovič set out “concerns about the unjustified measures announced by France earlier this week to disrupt UK fisheries and wider trade, to threaten energy supplies, and to block further cooperation between the UK and the EU, for example on the Horizon research programme”.
Frost told Šefčovič that France’s actions would be in breach of the trade and cooperation agreement between the EU and UK, and that resolution or compensation would be sought through the levers in that deal.
The French ambassador to the UK, Catherine Colonna, was asked to explain the French position after being summoned by the Europe minister, Wendy Morton, on Friday, and told that “confrontational” language of ministers in Paris was making the situation “no easier to resolve”.
The UK government has approved 16 out of 47 applications for French boats to operate in the UK’s coastal waters. A further 14 applications are being considered where evidence of activity in those waters was limited, but 17 applications had been withdrawn by French applicants because of “poor evidence”.
Of greater concern to the French authorities is that 55 boats applying to fish in the waters off Jersey have been turned down by the island’s government due to lack of evidence that they have fished there for 10 days in any of the last three years.
Earlier in the day, the UK’s environment secretary, George Eustice, suggested that Emmanuel Macron’s hopes of being re-elected president may have been driving the diplomatic row which saw France’s ambassador in London summoned to the foreign office on Friday.
Relations between the EU and the UK risk further deterioration after the Brexit minister accused Brussels of behaving “without regard to the huge political, economic and identity sensitivities” in Northern Ireland.
David Frost said the bloc had “destroyed cross-community consent” with an “overly strict” enforcement of the arrangements hammered out in the withdrawal agreement of January 2020.
His comments, in a foreword to a new paper for the Policy Exchange thinktank, were published days after a second week of talks between both sides ended in deadlock.
He also articulated, in the plainest terms yet, a view held in Downing Street that the protocol’s terms were foisted upon Britain owing to the weakness of Theresa May in the first phase of negotiations in 2017.
Lord Frost said the EU-UK joint report, which set the terms for the article 50 process of divorce from the EU, was a result of the UK failing to make “the necessary mental shift from being a member of the EU to negotiating exit from the EU”.
The joint report was a landmark moment in the history of Brexit, marked by the humiliation of May by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party in December 2017 just as she was about to co-sign it with the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
The then-DUP leader Arlene Foster, who was propping up May’s government, told her she would not support clauses which meant Northern Ireland would remain in regulatory alignment with the republic if the border problem could not be solved in second phase of negotiations.
Days later the section of the joint report was changed to accommodate the DUP but the sequencing of Brexit was set in stone, putting the Irish border solutions into the legally binding withdrawal agreement – Dublin’s point of maximum leverage – rather than future trade relations.
The faultlines generated by the sequencing appear to be driving Frost’s demands for fundamental changes to the protocol.
He says he considered resigning from his role as foreign affairs special adviser to Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, after reading the terms of the joint report and realising “a crucial pass had been sold”.
Frost said the protocol agreed that December was a result of the “extreme weakness” of the UK government after the June 2017 election. “We must return to the protocol and deliver a more robust, and more balanced, outcome than we could in 2019.”
The Policy Exchange paper – The Northern Ireland Protocol: the origins of the current crisis, by Roderick Crawford – provides a chronology of Brexit negotiations and what went wrong in 2017.
And fears of a new wave of violence in Northern Ireland linked to loyalist opposition to the Brexit protocol were prompted today after a double-decker bus was hijacked by masked and armed men and set on fire in a town close to Belfast.
The French president said that ‘talks need to continue’
France backed down on its threats to clog up British trade and ban UK fishers from its ports after Jersey offered to expedite approval for “five or six” new fishing vessels in its waters.
Ian Gorst, Jersey’s minister for external affairs, said the offer from his administration and the UK government had proven to be a “good way to move things forward”.
Paris had set a deadline of midnight on Monday by which it demanded further licences, only for Emmanuel Macron to announce he would shelve his government’s plans after last-ditch talks called by the European Commission.
“It’s not while we’re negotiating that we’re going to impose sanctions,” the French president had told reporters in Glasgow, where he was attending Cop26.
The boats expected to have their approval expedited are replacements for old vessels that have a track record of having fished in the coastal waters of the UK and Jersey.
Gorst said, however, that there appeared to have been a realisation in Paris as the talks had gone on that triggering its threats would lead to “entrenched positions”.
He said: “There are some issues around replacement vessels that we can sort out earlier than we might have envisaged, that is for both us and the UK.
“I think that would be quite a good way to move things forward and allow more time. Of the vessels that the EU is asking us to reconsider, at least a handful, about five or six, are replacement vessels …
“The French have taken the view that it is better to try and to deal with the individual vessels than trigger counter-measures whereby everybody will become entrenched.”
The French government has said that half of the vessels applying to fish in UK and Jersey waters have been rejected unfairly, and in breach of the trade and cooperation agreement.
The UK and Jersey have said they will issue licences only to boats that meet the test of being able to prove that they have previously operated in their coastal waters.
Jersey has so far rejected 55 applicants, of which “five or six” are replacements, but Gorst said his government was willing to examine “boat by boat” any new evidence for the rest.
The row until now has been dominated by a dispute over the type of evidence that is acceptable, with France insistent that a set of data known as Sacrois, which provides a rough approximation of a vessel’s movements. should be enough.
Talks will continue between officials for the next 48 hours. The UK cabinet minister Lord Frost is to meet Clément Beaune, the French minister for European affairs, in Paris on Thursday.
The UK environment secretary, George Eustice, claimed France had retreated from threats because it “looked more closely at the evidence”.
“As far as we’re concerned, we had an agreement. We’ve been implementing it in good faith. We’ve issued licences to everyone that is entitled to one,” Eustice said.
“We made clear last week that we thought the threats that France made were disproportionate. We felt they were very disappointing because we’ve been implementing the agreement.
“We just very much welcome the fact that France has stepped back from that course of action. And of course we continue to have dialogue if there are additional vessels that qualify,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Eustice said the UK government wanted to see the heat taken out of the talks. “We very much welcome the fact that France has stepped back from the threats that they made last Wednesday. This whole situation has been de-escalated and there will be further discussions on Thursday,” he said.
Almost 1,700 EU vessels have been licensed to fish in UK waters, equating to 98% of EU applications for fishing licences, the UK government says, but this figure is disputed in Paris. The main area of disagreement is over the number of small French vessels given access to the immediate coastal waters of the UK and Jersey.
On Tuesday, Bruno Bornell, an MP for Macron’s La République En Marche party, said Johnson was “bluffing” and that the dispute was an ongoing “scallop war”. He said more than 40% of French requests for licences had been delayed by up to 10 months – and that French boats were being subject to more stringent checks than boats from other countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium.
Gorst said his government supported the comments from the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, who had threatened tit-for-tat sanctions against France if it imposed sanctions on UK and Jersey boats.
He said: “We think that complying with the terms of the trade deal is incredibly important and we do actually support what the foreign secretary said yesterday that if we can’t get resolution we should use the trade deal to seek resolution.
“We would have been in a very difficult position if the French did counter-measures and the market for Jersey produce is closed.”